The Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA) has voiced deep concern over the unprecedented campaign being waged by the environmental lobby on the industry’s viability.
“Business aviation is under attack,” Ali Alnaqbi, MEBAA’s founding and executive chairman, told AIN. Alnaqbi—who is also chair of the governing board of the International Business Aviation Council—cited a growing chorus of disapproval regarding the inequalities inherent in the industry, including a declaration this summer by the French transport minister that restrictions should be placed on business aviation. Further, he said increased efforts to track aircraft and passenger identity were ominous developments.
“In the U.S., there are many who are unhappy about business aviation,” Alnaqbi said. “We need as an association and as an industry to work closely together. We need to start giving back. We cannot only take. We do not exist just to do business and make money, leaving communities or countries without any support. We need to start thinking in humanitarian or charitable terms. We need to think about other elements that will help us pay something back to the countries where we are operating.”
Alnaqbi’s comments are compelling given the Middle East’s reliance on oil exports. However, the region is also alive to the need for renewables, as major plans for multiple green-hydrogen and solar energy projects make clear.
MEBAA constituents are a vital cog in the global industry because of the number of high-net-worth individuals, VVIPs, and royal families who fly privately. Boeing previously told AIN that more than a third of BBJ products went to customers in the Middle East, especially in the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Alnaqbi said that while the entire aviation industry contributed 2 percent to global CO2 emissions, business aviation’s share was less than a quarter of that, at 0.44 percent. Fully 85 percent of private aviation use was devoted to business, while only 15 percent was family, leisure, and holiday travel, he claimed. But to environmental activists, such arguments fall on deaf ears.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel in the Middle East
Fuel suppliers in the region told AIN there is no sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) currently available at Middle East airports. Government mandates will likely be required to initiate SAF production and catalyze action at national oil companies (NOCs) like Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and Saudi Aramco. However, it is unclear when that could happen, as the timing of such rollouts is always unpredictable in the Middle East region but could happen quickly. NOCs and the private sector are unlikely to move without this lead.
Regional fuel companies said the lead needs to come from commercial airlines, rather than business jet operators. The requirement for fuel for business jet operations for one year is the same as a major international carrier would consume in a week, according to fuel suppliers. They added that airlines need to be involved to get the volumes up, and the costs down, before business aviation can take up the challenge.
“If you want to start SAF as an airport, business aviation’s not the answer. The volume is too small compared to what an airline consumes, and then everybody benefits from that,” one source told AIN.
Operators are wary of individually throwing their weight behind SAF due to the higher costs. Even blended SAF is likely to cost much more jet-A today. A pooled effort is required, where everyone contributes.
AIN’s search for mention of SAF on the websites of Saudi Aramco and ADNOC was unable to locate any reference to the term, but the region’s expertise in fuel technology is expected to make it a major contributor to the greener fuel’s rollout. In November 2020, a Dubai aviation sustainability webinar indicated that efforts to develop SAF in the Middle East were still embryonic.
Given its penchant for innovation, Dubai is a likely candidate to give SAF the regional go-ahead, making progress likely in the next five years. However, the suspicion is that Gulf Cooperation Council governments and NOCs are shying away from it because they are doing so well on traditional hydrocarbon revenue given buoyant oil prices.
“I don’t know the entire picture of what everybody’s doing,” one fuel supplier said. “Everybody’s keeping things close to their chest—only certain things are coming out in the media. For now, I think SAF’s being over-publicized—nothing’s happening, but a lot of things are being talked about. It’s a hot topic, so hopefully, in the next couple of years, we’ll see a lot more deliverables than just talking. SAF could happen tomorrow. The way things happen in the UAE, it could just happen tomorrow.”
Alnaqbi said the SAF agenda is a high priority this week at MEBAA 2022. “Several global companies involved in the development of SAF are here. We will get them in a room with the local fuel providers and producers to plot the way forward. We are encouraging the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority and counterparts all over the region to initiate discussions with local fuel producers.
“It is very expensive to use SAF at the moment because demand is not that high. The hope is to significantly expand the volume of production. However, we are going in the right direction: the latest ICAO Assembly, in September, adopted 2050 sustainability targets. We are working with everybody. We have to move our discussions with the airlines forward. That is our agenda; there’s going to be a lot of discussions this week at the MEBAA Show about SAF.”